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DukeEngage Maps Walltown

Student project delves into neighborhood’s history

Duke student Casey Dunn, right, watches as Deja Cooper, 13, left, and Kendall Clark, 13, center, use a GPS unit and camera to recording the coordinates of a house while on a walking tour through Walltown.

Middle-school students in a historically black neighborhood near Duke's campus are digging into the community's roots in a summer enrichment program sponsored by Duke's Office of Durham and Regional Affairs.

Trudi Abel, a professor in Duke's history department, and Casey Dunn, a Duke undergraduate, are helping the 11 seventh- and eighth- graders from Carter Community School's summer program on the Walltown Neighborhood History Project. (WNHP).

Walltown, a small neighborhood north of East Campus, was established in the late 1800s by George Wall, an African-American staff member of Trinity College (now Duke University) who relocated to Durham after the college's move from Randolph County.

"There is a wealth of information available about middle class African-Americans living in Hayti [a famed Durham neighborhood] during the 1930s, particularly on the Fayetteville Street corridor, but there isn't as much available for Walltown (West Durham) and its African-American working class residents," Abel said.

The program, which lasts five weeks, is a part of DukeEngage Durham, which connects Duke undergraduates with immersive service projects. Abel, who has created a website containing data, images and maps about Durham history called Digital Durham, is teaching the Carter students to use Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, GPS technology, Google Earth, Google Maps and spreadsheet software to create a clickable map of Walltown with historical information about the area during the 1930s.

"The main goal of the project is to make Walltown history more accessible while giving middle- school students a solid foundation in 21st century technology skills," Abel said.

The project, now in its third week, has included a walk through Walltown, in which students used their GPS devices to locate the latitude and longitude of George Wall's former home. The youngsters have also chatted with long-time residents of the neighborhood.

As a native of Sandpoint, Idaho, Dunn had very little knowledge of Durham prior to his time working on the Walltown Neighborhood History Project. DukeEngage provided the rising sophomore -- who plans to major in mechanical engineering -- with an opportunity to combine his interests in computers and working with children.

"I'm doing hands-on learning as well. I really wanted to learn more about the history of Durham and the community surrounding Duke," Dunn said. "I also like working with kids, so this was a great opportunity."

The students say they enjoy working with Dunn just as much he enjoys working with them.

"It has been cool working with a Duke student," said Devin Kirk, one of the middle school students.

"He breaks down things from his point of view and it is easier to understand than if it was from a teacher," added Deja Cooper.


Trudi Abel, center, and Dunn look over the map with Kendall Clark, left, during the Walltown tour. Photo by Megan Morr